They haven’t had too many regular starters on international duty so they’ll be fresh for the challenges that we’ll present them with.
Luckily for us, Mertesacker has retired from international football, while Gabriel, Monreal, Koscielny and (inexplicably) Coquelin were all left at home by Brazil, Spain and France respectively. That means that defensively at least we’ll be as fresh as they are.
Going forward, Theo was an unused sub against Lithuania so he won’t be too fatigued after his Estonia exertions. Alexis and Ramsey on the other hand have clocked up fair few minutes and air miles to boot, so they, along with Cazorla might be a little ‘jaded’.
With a big game against Bayern midweek it really wouldn’t surprise me if all three players were rested.
My main concern ahead of the game against Watford isn’t even player fatigue, it’s player preparation.
Watford have had the entirety of the international break to hone their tactics for Saturday evenings game.
We routinely see teams who play in Europe struggle at the weekend against teams who don’t, because having a whole week to prepare for a game makes a big difference compared to having a few days.
This game will leave us in a similar position, and I can see us struggling if we don’t nick a goal in the first twenty minutes.
On a more positive note Watford will try to attack at least a little bit as the game is at Vicarage Road, so we may have some space to work with if we use the ball efficiently.
Giroud’s goals for France will have done his confidence the world of good, so we at least have a viable plan B if they score first and then defend deep.
Tuesday night will present an entirely different set of problems for us when the German giants come to London.
These two group games will be more like the knockout rounds because we desperately need at least one win for two reasons. First and most obviously is points on the board, because if we lose both games we’re out barring a miracle. Secondly we need to keep Bayern on their toes for their last two games. In a nightmare scenario where we need need them to beat Olympiakos and/or Zagreb we don’t want them fielding a weakened team because they’ve already qualified.
The most pressing issue is Lewandowski. Anyone who has watched him play for Munich or Poland will be very worried indeed, as he can turn almost nothing into a goalscoring opportunity. He is one of the few world class strikers around at the moment, and he will be a handful for whomever Wenger plays at centre half.
Even when surrounded by top class defenders he has the speed of thought and mobility to fashion a goalscoring opportunity. For this reason I would opt for Per over Gabriel, due to the formers ability to correctly position himself to block shots with those extra long legs of his.
Injuries won’t help
As for the rest of the Bayern team, there is excellency in every department despite their Arsenal-like injury list.
They’ll be without Robben, Ribery, Götze and possibly Coman. They’ve coped very well despite missing their two wingers so far this season, whilst Coman doesn’t start every game, (he has had a good campaign so far though).
The big loss is Götze, who has been outstanding and has already wracked up a number of goals, however like the three players already mentioned he’s not indispensable. Their eight wins from eight, 24 goals scored with only 4 conceded in the Bundesliga is a testament to their strength in depth. Their injury list will not help us.
Pep Guardiola will have noticed how we struggle to defend set pieces and that Alexis doesn’t always get back to help Monreal, so don’t be surprised to see a focus on our left.
He will also know that we need to win, so will look to exploit any gaps we leave when going forward.
Santi Cazorla will inevitably need to spend more time next to Özil than Coquelin so that he can help build attacks, so we can expect Müller to find space in the area he vacates. (We’ll have to keep an eye on late runs into the box from the German).
If Bayern have one weakness defensively it is that they don’t always cope well with pace. As an example Dortmund’s Aubameyang gave them a hard time in their last league outing. He scored one and should have scored at least one more. Theo will have chances and he’ll need to take them if we are to get anything from these games.
In the middle of the park we may have some luck if Guardiola opts to play Alonso. While he is still a very good player he is not as adept at getting out of tight situations as he used to be. For that reason we may just see Ramsey tuck in slightly to put some extra pressure on him in the hope that he either rushes a pass, (a rushed pass is rarely an accurate one) or loses the ball.
How well Thiago and his midfield partner cope with Özil will also be very interesting, as it’s not every day that you play against a footballer with his level of intelligence.
Ultimately this is a game that we are capable of winning as long as we take our chances and don’t get lured into any traps.